Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fox Can't Believe Its Eyes

That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

It's easy to make fun of President Bush. In fact, it's our patriotic duty to do so. He's been a complete and utter failure of a leader, a fool. A bumbling idiot, even. But at a certain point he stopped being funny. Just look at the litany of domestic disasters he's overseen and/or been directly responsible over the course of the past 8 years:


-War in Iraq and Afghanistan

-North Korea and (maybe) Iran going nuclear

-Katrina and the knee-capping of New Orleans

-Geneva Convention flouting, torture, constitution-bending spying, and other human rights violations

-The stacking of the Supreme Court with justices inclined to make much of his religious and political extremism permanent

-The deepening of the national debt (which began as a surplus when he came into office)

-And now, the total and utter collapse of the U.S. economy, thanks to years of deregulation and an almost fanatical dedication to free market capitalism

Is it all his fault? No, not really. But has he helped at all? No, not really. And that's why he's failed totally and completely. At the end of the day, the president's role is to lead, and in this regard Bush has been an embarrassment. He's no leader. He's a follower, following his ill-devised instincts down numerous dead ends and wrong turns, leaving the rest of the country in the lurch as if his mere conviction could excuse his actions.

P.S. On the plus side, Bush may preside over the Cubs going to the World Series, so there's that. But at the same time, that just underscores how topsy-turvey his presence is. Had he done anything right, the Cubs would certainly be out by now. That's just the natural order of things.

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Friday, September 26, 2008


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Palin vs. Witches

This gets weirder and weirder:

Dr. Evil

"The economy will be destroyed unless you give me ... $700 BILLION DOLLARS!"

"The economy will be destroyed unless you ... POSTPONE THE DEBATE!"

What a bunch of clowns.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Unpatriotic Act

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Facing a global threat of unprecedented scope and danger, the Bush administration requests an immediate virtual blank check and expansion of powers, with minimal transparency, that ultimately supports and otherwise bolsters corporate interests at the expense of tax payers. And time is of the essence!

Except that this isn't the Patriot Act or anything to do with the "war" on terror but that $1 trillion dollar bill to assuage the collapse of various financial institutions. It's the administration's attempt to prop up companies undone by their own greed and irresponsibility, giant banks and investment houses to be relieved of their own bad investments at the expense of the poor folk they took advantage of in the first place - with lures of low or no interest - the end result of a steady erosion of Depression Era stopgaps put in place to limit just this kind of exploitation of economic loop holes.

Congressional critics will eventually cave and sign something, but there's absolutely no proof that the bill will do anything to staunch the ongoing collapse. Yet isn't that President Job's M.O.? Why deal with problems today when they can be postponed until tomorrow? It's still more arrogance and idiocy from the same people who have basically cornered the market on such things, and no matter who wins in November, thanks to these chumps, America is essentially screwed, for decades to come, on multiple fronts.

President Job is worried about his legacy? Well, we're watching it come into shape, one disaster at a time.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

What Went Wrong

This is really long, but really informative for anyone interested in what's happening economically, and how it all stretches back to the acts of a few greedy or mislead persons of interest - including John McCain, back in the days of the S&L scandal:

"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is Enemy Action."
-- Auric Goldfinger

James Bond's wealthy nemesis may have had an obsession with gold, but he judged, quite correctly, that if people keep putting your plans awry, that was likely their intent.

In 1982, the same year John McCain entered the Senate, a bill was put forward that would substantially deregulate the Savings and Loan industry. The Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act was an initiative of the Reagan administration, and was largely authored by lobbyists for the S&L industry -- including John McCain's warm-up speaker at the convention, Fred Thompson. The official description of the bill was "An act to revitalize the housing industry by strengthening the financial stability of home mortgage lending institutions and ensuring the availability of home mortgage loans." Considering where things stand in 2008, that may sound dubious. It should.

Seven years later, the S&L industry was collapsing. What was the cause? Garn-St. Germain handed the S&Ls a greatly expanded range of capabilities, allowing them to go head to head with full service banks, but it didn't give them the bank's regulations. Left to operate in an anarchistic gray area, S&Ls chased profits, indulged in amazing extravagances, and cranked out enough cheap mortgages to fuel a real estate boom. They also experimented with lots of complex, creative -- and risky -- investments, even though they didn't have the economic models to really determine the worth of the things they were buying. The result was a mountain of bad debts and worthless "assets." Does any of that sound eerily (or nauseatingly) familiar?

It wasn't a foregone conclusion. In 1985, three years after the deregulation of the S&Ls, the chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board saw that the situation was already looking shaky, with the potential to become much worse. He instituted a rule to limit the amounts and types of investments S&Ls could carry on their books in an effort to head off disaster. However, many savings and loans -- among them Lincoln Savings & Loan Association of Irvine, CA, which was headed by a fellow named Charles Keating -- promptly ignored these rules.

Now enters a familiar cast of characters. First to pop up was the universally beloved Fed-chief-to-be, Alan Greenspan. Greenspan argued against the loan board's new rules, and persuaded Reagan to appoint one of Keating's pals to the board to blunt the requirements. A quintet of senators, among them John McCain, began having meetings with both the management at Lincoln and the regulators at the loan board. ] Alan Greenspan also helped out with a letter to the regulators, asking that Lincoln be exempt from the new rules. With their help of Greenspan and their pet senators, Lincoln was able to stay in business an additional two years, at the end of which they failed -- taking the life savings of 21,000, mostly elderly, investors with them.

How involved was John McCain? McCain and Keating had known each other since 1981 and had become fast friends. Of all the "Keating Five," it was McCain who moved into the life of the Lincoln S&L chief. The two men vacationed together multiple times, with the whole McCain clan (babysitter included) heading out for Keating's private Caribbean property on Keating's private jet. McCain didn't think to actually report these trips, or pay for them, until the investigators were breathing down his neck. And McCain took his payment in the form of more than just vacations. Keating and other members of Lincoln's parent company padded McCain's pockets with $112,000 in campaign contributions.

In John McCain's biography, he called his meetings with Keating and regulators "the worst mistake of my life," though from the text you'd think this was a spur of the moment decision, not something that McCain did repeatedly over a space of years. Still, you might think that a "worst mistake" would stay fresh in his memory.

It certainly didn't fade quickly for the country. Following the S&L crisis, the Resolution Trust Company was formed to swallow up the debt of Lincoln and 746 other S&Ls gone wild, and taxpayers were left with the $125 billion bill. The resulting budget deficit forced cutbacks in other programs. The artificial real estate boom collapsed and housing starts fell to their lowest levels in decades. Finally, the whole nation settled in for a period nasty enough that three years later someone could still campaign around the idea "It's the economy, stupid."

Even so, by 1999 Phil Gramm -- who had entered the Senate two years after McCain and quickly become the economic guru of the Keating Five maverick -- put forward the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. This Act passed out of the Senate on a party line vote with 100% Republican support, including that of John McCain. (To be fair, the bill eventually passed again with a wide margin following revisions in the House.)

This act repealed part of the Glass-Steagall Act. This may sound like a bunch of Congressperson soup, but the gist of it is that Glass-Steagall was put in place in 1933 to control the rampant speculation that had helped cause the collapse of banking at the outset of the depression, and to prevent such consolidation of the banks that the nation had all its eggs in one fiscal basket.

Gramm-Leach-Bliley reversed those rules, allowing not only more bank mergers, but for banks to become directly involved in the stock market, bonds, and insurance. Remember the bit about how S&Ls failed because they didn't have the regulations that protected banks? After Gramm-Leach-Bliley, banks didn't have that protection either.

Gramm wasn't done. The next year he was back with the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which was slipped into a "must pass" spending bill on the last day of the 106th Congress. This Act greatly expanded the scope of futures trading, created new vehicles for speculation, and sheltered several investments from regulation.

As with both Gramm-Leach-Bliley and Garn-St. Germain, large parts of this bill were written by industry lobbyists. This famously included the "Enron Loophole" that exempted energy trading from regulation and was written by (big suprise) Enron Lobbyists working with Gramm. Not coincidentally, Senator Gramm, the second largest recipient of campaign contributions from Enron, was also key to legislating the deregulation of California's energy commodity trading.

Thanks to this fortunate trifecta of Gramm-crafted legislation, Enron was able to create "EnronOnline" and trade electricity in California with absolutely no oversight or transparency. They quickly worked out how to game the system. Previously, there had been only one Stage 3 rolling blackout in the history of California. Within months, the system had been manipulated by traders to generate 38 such blackouts and wholesale electrical prices had gone up more than 3000%. Despite production capacity equal to four times the demand during winter, energy traders even engineered a blackout in mid-January.

During the confusion of these deliberate "shortages" and "price spikes," the California administration of Gray Davis -- blind to speculator manipulations because of the walls erected by Gramm's legislation -- was forced to sign energy contracts at enormous rates. There was little choice, because most of California's public utilities were on the brink of bankruptcy from the rising wholesale prices.

In a single year, Gramm's legislation allowed speculators to bring the state to its knees. Enron alone looted California of $11 billion. The manipulations of the energy market were also a major factor in Davis getting the hook, helped usher the governator into power, and they still have repercussions in California's budget battles today. By the end of that year, the depth of Enron's deception could no longer be hidden, and the whole company came crashing down in the largest bankruptcy in history -- at the time. This brought more billions lost in mutual funds and pension funds across the country, and played a major role in the economic downturn of 2001.

But that was only the second act. The combination of Gramm-Leach-Bliley and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act was a toxic cocktail whose total damage was greater than the sum of its parts.

The first Act promoted bank buyouts and mergers that reached such an insane pitch that the average consumer could only keep up by tracking the changing names on their checks and credit cards. Mercantile buys Ameribanc and Mark Twain. Firstar buys Federated and First Colonial. US Bancorp buys Mercantile and Firstar. And, because it allowed brokerages and insurance companies to mingle with banks, the Act cemented a trend that was already (and illegally) underway in which all those terms had become rather quaint. Is Wachovia a savings bank, an investment bank, a brokerage, or an insurance provider? The answer is "yes."

In allowing financial institutions to grow to Godzilla-sized proportions, Gramm-Leach-Bliley helped ensure that we would have financial entities that were "too big to fail." Rather than choosing to enforce rules that kept these institutions apart, the deregulators chose to create monster bankeragasurances whose downfall (and existence) was enough to threaten the whole system.

But if Gramm-Leach-Bliley removed the limits on size and scope, these new institutions still needed fuel. With many financial transactions operating on razor thin margins, and increasing automation sapping the profits from trading of all sorts, they needed a new way to generate the funds required to swallow their brethren in the merged fiscal corporation pond. For that, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act was a godsend.

Among those instruments which the CFMA sheltered from regulatory scrutiny was something called the "credit default swap." A kind of insurance one bank could exchange with another, credit default swaps supposedly made it safe for banks to take on ever riskier forms of debt. The Act didn't invent these swaps, though they were relatively new. Instead, by placing them in a state where they were not only unregulated but almost perfectly opaque, credit default swaps were turned into the perfect vehicle to fuel a Wall Street revolution. No one had any idea what these things were actually worth, they were traded "over the counter" without being administered by any exchange, and even the SEC could monitor their existence only indirectly.

Who would cheer for a new kind of financial instrument that was difficult to understand, invisible to regulators, and impossible for even the whizziest of Wall Street whiz kids to value? Guess.

More recently, instruments that are more complex and less transparent--such as credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, and credit-linked notes--have been developed and their use has grown very rapidly in recent years. The result? Improved credit-risk management together with more and better risk-management tools appear to have significantly reduced loan concentrations in telecommunications and, indeed, other areas and the associated stress on banks and other financial institutions.
--Alan Greenspan, 2002

Get that? Greenspan loved credit default swaps. He opined again and again that such instruments would be the salvation of the industry by spreading around risks. To the mighty Greenspan, both their complexity and their lack of transparency were good things, since swaps would only be handled by the big boys who knew how to play with fire.

When questioned about his support of Gramm's legislation, John McCain called his friend (and by then, campaign co-chair) Gramm "one of the smartest people in the world on the economy" and pointed out that Greenspan also favored the acts Gramm and his coalition of lobbyists had authored. If both Gramm and Greenspan were on his side, McCain couldn't possibly be in the wrong.

Except, of course, that he could.

From the beginning, there were plenty of people in the financial community whose opinion of these unregulated credit swaps was not as rosy as that of Gramm, Greenspan, and McCain. Chief among those speaking in opposition was SEC Chairman, Arthur Levitt. Levitt argued that what the industry needed was more transparency, especially when it came to complex instruments like default swaps, and he testified to this before Gramm's Senate Banking Committee,.

"In my judgment, the risk of this regulatory approach is simply unacceptable for America's investors."
--Arthur Levitt, 1999

Gramm paid no attention.

Credit default swaps did allow the banks to share risks. So much so, that banks raced each other in an effort to find more risks. They made it possible for the down payment on homes to become 3%, 1%, 0%. Skip the credit check, avoid the employment requirements, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! We've got a credit default swap, we can do anything!

The encouragement and "safety" that credit default swaps provided made the sub-prime mortgage market possible. Just as with the deregulation of S&Ls in the 1980s, the market was suddenly flooded with easy credit. The result was a real estate boom, soaring home prices, and a plague of "Flip that House!" shows on cable.

As the banks piled up crappy mortgages, they heaped on ever more of the credit default swaps -- and they still had no idea how to value the things. Worse, they began to trade the swaps themselves as if they were an investment, treating them like something worth holding instead of a big bundle of cartoon bombs whose fuses were already lit. Since very few loans were falling into default at the time, owning a default swap seemed like a way to collect fees without ever paying out. Banks wanted more, and more, and more.

A secondary market for trading swaps exploded into existence, and swaps were traded with absolutely no consideration for the nature or quality of the underlying investment. Swaps changed hands a dozen or more times, growing in "value" as they went. Worse still, no one regulated who could buy a swap, so it was (and is) perfectly possible for a company to acquire swaps that theoretically cover billions of dollars in loans, even if that company doesn't have a red cent on hand to cover those swaps should the loans default.

How big did this market become? Here's business correspondent Bob Moon and host Kai Ryssdal on American Public Media's Marketplace from back in the spring.

BOB MOON: OK, I'm about to unload some numbers on you here, so I'll speak slowly so you can follow this.

The value of the entire U.S. Treasuries market: $4.5 trillion.

The value of the entire mortgage market: $7 trillion.

The size of the U.S. stock market: $22 trillion.

OK, you ready?

The size of the credit default swap market last year: $45 trillion.

KAI RYSSDAL: That's a lot of money, Bob.

As in three times the whole US gross domestic product, Bob. And the truth is that Moon probably underestimated. The unregulated and poorly reported credit default swaps may have actually passed $70 trillion last year, or about $5 trillion more than the GDP of the entire world.

So, are you starting to get an idea of just how big a genie Phil Gramm and his pals unleashed?

With some regularity over the last eight years, fiscal whistle blowers have tried to raise their hands and register a protest. Um, sirs? Is it altogether a good idea to run up debts exceeding all the assets it's even possible to hold? But so long as no one actually had to pay off on the swaps, the party went on. Even usually conservative (in the fiscal sense) companies like AIG started to worry that they were being left behind and leapt headlong into the swap pool.

Shortly after Greenspan's departure in 2006, the Federal Reserve took the unusual step of issued a joint statement along with the SEC to warn about the risks associated with credit default swaps. But by that point, the damage was already severe. If swaps lost their value, most of those who had played the game would find their giant firms abruptly valued in pocket change. The only solution was to cover the problem with still more swaps and keep moving.

Then a funny thing happened. After years in which banks had handed out loans willy-nilly, guarded by the indestructible swap, people and companies started to really default on those loans. Credit slowed, home prices fell, and the whole snake started to eat itself tail first. Suddenly, credit default swaps were not sources of limitless cash. It turns out that an insurance policy -- even a secret, unregulated policy -- is occasionally expected to pay. Speculators started to look at the paper they were holding and for the first time realized it could all be worthless. Worse, it could (and did) represent a massive debt; one that no one had the funds to cover.

When Bear Stearns fell apart last March, it was only suspected that a big part of the effort in saving the giant investment bank was keeping their holdings in credit default swaps from unraveling and spreading to other institutions. Naturally, part of solving this problem involved creating a new credit default swap to cover Bear Stearn's potential debt. But the all-purpose swap was starting to lose its power. Shortly after Bear Stearns went belly up, AIG reported the largest quarterly loss in the company's history, taking a $11 billion hit on revaluing its holdings of swaps. The party was definitely coming to a close.

When AIG finally collapsed this week, there was no doubt about the primary cause of its failure. The previously well grounded company had "gotten itself involved with something called credit default swaps." Point of irony alert: Arthur Levitt now serves on the AIG board... or at least he did until the government had to take over most of AIG to salvage the company from the very idiocy Levitt had warned of in 1999.

This week, the Bush administration announced the beginnings of a plan to salvage what remains of the financial markets. At first glance, it appears that the plan will consist mainly of creating a kind of "garbage pit," a fund or group of funds -- cousins of the Resolution Trust that was created during the S&L crisis -- into which those people who have dabbled in bad debts can toss their problems. Only this time the cost to the taxpayers is at least $700 billion... and a big bite out of representative democracy.

The expansion of unregulated Savings and Loans in the 1980s brought on the collapse of that industry, a crippling of the economy, and left taxpayers holding the bag. Maybe that was only happenstance. Those pushing for the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act may not have known what they were doing.

The deregulation of the California electricity market, along with the protections provided to Enron through Phil Gramm's lobbyist-written legislation brought blackouts, fiscal and political chaos, and left taxpayers holding the bag. But the people who engineered that event -- people like Gramm and Greenspan -- had already seen what happened with the S&Ls. They should have known better. Still, perhaps that was only coincidence.

The sub-prime mortgage crisis that has not only come so close to utterly destroying the markets, but has ruined the value of many people's homes and left millions with mortgages they can't pay, was also the outcome of the deregulation created by these men. The very predictable outcome. When taxpayers are left holding the bag for $1 trillion this time around, it's hard to believe it's any sort of accident.

This is enemy action. This is a bullet deliberately fired into the economy by men willing to exercise their ideology regardless of the cost to taxpayers. Men who have every expectation that they can plunder the system again and again, while the public picks up the tab. John McCain may not have had his finger directly on the trigger, but he was there. He assisted. These were his personal friends and philosophical comrades. He may not be the high priest, but he has been a loyal acolyte in the cult of deregulation.

It may come as a surprise to the champions of deregulation, but nobody likes regulation. The restrictions that were placed on banks, S&Ls, and other institutions in the 1930s weren't put there because someone thought it would be fun. They were put in place because they addressed problems that had just been clearly and painfully revealed. They were put in place because they were necessary.

It's bad enough if John McCain didn't know that. It's far worse if he did.

[The original essay is here]

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

As Seen on the Web

Commenter at CNN.com:

Republicans lowered my taxes, and will keep them low. But the value of my home has dropped 20%, my health insurance costs have doubled, gas costs $4 a gallon, and my investments are in the tank. Please, tax me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


The Post Modern Campaign

How far off are we, really, from ads like this?

"Barack Obama says he's 'young.' But is he really? Being young is about more than just talk. Look behind the words, and you'll find the same old policies. From the same old people.

"Anyone can come out of nowhere and claim to be young. John McCain has been proving his youth for decades, ever since he was a young POW in a dark isolation cell in Vietnam.

"John McCain will bring real youth to Washington. The kind of youth that gets results.

"John McCain. A president you can trust to be young."

More black comedy here.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Sunday, September 14, 2008

State of Emergency!

Apparently, a state of emergency has been declared for all of Cook County. That includes us, though we haven't had it as bad as some. In fact, stuck at home this morning after all the rain, we decided to brave the elements and hit the zoo (which has a great indoor playroom for kids). On the way there, after passing several roads closed due to flooding, as well as a few roads that may as well be closed (entire parks were under water; the Des Plains river was overflowing), I decided to give up. I had a bad feeling about the whole thing.

We ended up going to the Garfield Park Conservatory, which was fun, but the roof was so leaky you more or less needed an umbrella inside. And now, the news just reported that the Zoo eventually had to be closed, the flooding was so bad. Animals were apparently swimming around in their pens and cages, and some could even potentially swim right out to eatgreet you. They were moved to safe and we, for our safety, were kept out.

I should mention that Chicago and Cook County is not a particularly flood-prone area. We're not some swamp. We're not below sea level. We're just getting hit hard by persistent rain, a wet reminder of the havoc bad weather can cause. Expect to see more and more of it as more and more the fruits of global warming come to bear.

Money Matters

Our older daughter Z, now a worldly near-4 year old, knows there are two firm rules about money in our household. One, keep loose change away from Baby A - it's a choking hazard. And two, when you're done playing with your fake money, be sure to put it back in your pretend cash register.

Other than that, I've wondered what else about money I should be instilling in her young, impressionable mind, while she's still unconditionally receptive to my influence. Z understands cash has some value, at least on a shallow level, but doesn't quite grasp the power of the purse. I mean, how could she, when nearly anything she could possibly dream of - from dolls to stickers to candy - pretty much amounts to mere peanuts?

Still, we've been very careful not to spoil her. We've also been teaching her the importance of charity, and the bigger idea that there will always be people less fortunate than she, people so busy struggling for fundamental "needs" that frivolous "wants" barely enter the equation. Possession's definitely a concept any pre-schooler can grasp. Point out that not everyone can afford her favorite toys, and that she's very lucky to have what she has, and it's pretty clear she gets it. She empathizes. She's been there. She's knows full well how it makes her feel at school when a friend shows off shiny new princess shoes Z wishes she had herself.

I've personally been hyper aware of the tough plight faced by so many - too many, really - Americans this current election year. The never-ending campaign has been awash with so many fiscal facts, figures, promises, recriminations and strategies, flying left and right from both sides: thousands, millions, billions, even trillions of budget dollars in programs, funding, tax cuts, tax hikes, and more. When I hear these numbers, I think of all the people potentially oblivious to the way others are gambling with their future. I also think of my own kids, who will similarly have to deal with any decisions made on their behalf by do-anything-to-win politicians who may or may not have their longview best interests at heart. Then I consider the current economic downturn and wonder how my own kids would fare in the near future were things to take an even more dire, disastrous turn. I wonder what kind of problems they'd face should so many currently irresponsible spending habits continue unabated, digging a deeper and deeper hole of national debt that will eventually have to be reckoned with.

Of course, right now both kids are more or less blissfully innocent of all this stuff. Z, for her part, can recognize pictures of Barack Obama and even spell his name, but of course she has little idea what he means or what he'd do as president. She does, however, recognize that he represents something good, and that he's ready to clean up the mess made by "a bad man." I find that encouraging - not the fact that we're potentially raising some bleeding heart, but the fact that Z understands the difference between good and bad, and the notion that one person can make a difference. I think of that every time we give change to someone in Chinatown, or every time we walk somewhere instead of driving. Certainly I think of this every time she chastises me for forgetting to turn off the lights (and she does do this - she says "it's not good for the Erf!"), or every time we drop things off at the second hand store.

When Z - let alone barely walkin', not talkin' Baby A. - grows up, she'll come to her own conclusions as to why the world works (or doesn't work) the way that it is. She'll also fully understand the role that money plays in the general function and dysfunction of global society. If I've done my job, though, she'll always remember that no matter how deep the coffers or debts, there'll always be a right and wrong way to go about doing things: irresponsibly, thinking only of the here and now and none of the ramifications, and responsibly, thinking about tomorrow, the impact of her decisions, and ultimately, what it means for her own children, and her children's children, so many years down the line.

(Alma's a member of the Parent Bloggers Network, which is sponsoring a "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees" contest with Capital One, which is why I'm suddenly so fancy-pants introspective this silly season).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Four More Wars!

China, Iran, North Korea and now, ladies and gentlemen, Russia! I don't know if McCain/Palin has a domestic agenda at all, but I think we pretty much know where they stand internationally. Add in the ongoing trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan, if not Pakistan, and we'd have hot and colds wars going on several different fronts at the same time. And to what achievable goal? Peace and prosperity? You've go to hand it to the Republicans. They sure love irony.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

If the Simile Fits ...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Bridge Back to Nowhere

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Meanwhile, Back in the Jungle ...

Sarah Palin isn't just stonewalling the ongoing investigations into her misuse of power, she and the McCain camp are now actively trying to shut them down. And if you're so deluded as to think Palin deserves the benefit of the doubt, think again.

This IS Spinal Tap

When John McCain began his wan convention speech, he spent a long time standing in front of some mysterious mansion. A few intrepid reporters looked into it, and it turns out it was a photo of Walter Reed. No, not Walter Reed Medical Center, but Walter Reed Middle School, in North Hollywood, California. So what happened? The McCain camp is, not surprisingly, mum, but all theories point to a random, careless search through stock photos that came up with the wrong image. If there was any further doubt the GOP is about nothing more than photo ops, string pulling and stagecraft, here you go.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Another Stealth VP?

It seems as if, for the time being, the McCain campaign is shielding Palin from the big, bad press. Is this really the precedent they want to set, after seven years of secretive VP in Chief Dick Cheney? There are less than two months left - can they really keep her under wraps the whole time? I somehow doubt it.

A week ago no one had ever heard of her, and right now she's still basking in the glow of being loved for ... what? Reading a speech well? Granted, that same criticism has been levied at Obama, yet he faced his critics head on. Obama's trial by fire also lasted over a year, and gave him plenty of time to defuse any ticking time bombs. Palin's hasn't even begun yet. So if people think, based on that one prime time speech, that they have any idea who Sarah Palin "really" is, they're sorely mistaken. The fun part hasn't even started.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

McCain Says: No More War!

Except maybe Iran and Russia.

Could McCain's speech in progress possibly be a more explicit encapsulation of an older (and much, much whiter) generation and a previous mode of thinking and a newer, younger one with a better idea if not grasp of the future?

McCain's said a few sensible things, but it can't be a coincidence that those few things drew the most tepid response from the red meat Republican crowd. He's also contradicted himself numerous times. Is he a fly solo maverick, or a team player? Is President Job and his cronies responsible for the current state of affairs, or is the root of all evil more nebulous and mysterious? What about McCain's blatant bid for the support of the religious right, the true heart and soul of the modern day Republican party? More importantly, what about all the invasive laws and imposed restrictions these loonies would inflict on us all? How can you talk about the shame and pain of torture from personal experience, yet not renounce the current administration's support of similar tactics?

Anyway, I assume now that he's reverted to full-on POW mode, he's wrapping things up on a hyper patriotic note. Why not just call for a renewal of the draft, McCain, if getting shot down helped you find God, country and purpose? Maybe we could all use a little time in a box to see things your way.

On PBS they're noting the size of the balloons dropping. There's a metaphor there.

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Do What I Say, Now

Not what I said, then.

Palin's Speech ...

Was a cross between this and this.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


That's what the signs being waved at the Republican National Convention read. Prosperity. Not now, of course, but later, when John McCain is elected and does ... something. Invades Iran? Invades North Korea? Invades Russia? One of those countries has got to have some prosperity we can take, dammit! These guys have me energized! And totally on message! Go, old white people, go!

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Inside Baseball, Overheard

This turkey is done:

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Even More Palin Making the Rounds

It's long, but puts Palin in perspective:

Dear friends,

So many people have asked me about what I know about Sarah Palin in the
last 2 days that I decided to write something up . . .

Basically, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton have only 2 things in
common: their gender and their good looks. :)

You have my permission to forward this to your friends/email contacts
with my name and email address attached, but please do not post it on
any websites, as there are too many kooks out there . . .



I am a resident of Wasilla, Alaska. I have known Sarah since 1992.
Everyone here knows Sarah, so it is nothing special to say we are on a
first-name basis. Our children have attended the same schools. Her
father was my child's favorite substitute teacher. I also am on a
first name basis with her parents and mother-in-law. I attended more
City Council meetings during her administration than about 99% of the
residents of the city.

She is enormously popular; in every way she’s like the most popular
girl in middle school. Even men who think she is a poor choice and
won't vote for her can't quit smiling when talking about her because
she is a "babe".

It is astonishing and almost scary how well she can keep a secret. She
kept her most recent pregnancy a secret from her children and parents
for seven months.

She is "pro-life". She recently gave birth to a Down's syndrome baby.
There is no cover-up involved, here; Trig is her baby.

She is energetic and hardworking. She regularly worked out at the gym.

She is savvy. She doesn't take positions; she just "puts things out
there" and if they prove to be popular, then she takes credit.

Her husband works a union job on the North Slope for BP and is a
champion snowmobile racer. Todd Palin’s kind of job is highly
sought-after because of the schedule and high pay. He arranges his
work schedule so he can fish for salmon in Bristol Bay for a month or
so in summer, but by no stretch of the imagination is fishing their
major source of income. Nor has her life-style ever been anything
like that of native Alaskans.

Sarah and her whole family are avid hunters.

She's smart.

Her experience is as mayor of a city with a population of about 5,000
(at the time), and less than 2 years as governor of a state with about
670,000 residents.

During her mayoral administration most of the actual work of running
this small city was turned over to an administrator. She had been
pushed to hire this administrator by party power-brokers after she had
gotten herself into some trouble over precipitous firings which had
given rise to a recall campaign.

Sarah campaigned in Wasilla as a “fiscal conservative”. During her 6
years as Mayor, she increased general government expenditures by over
33%. During those same 6 years the amount of taxes collected by the
City increased by 38%. This was during a period of low inflation
(1996-2002). She reduced progressive property taxes and increased a
regressive sales tax which taxed even food. The tax cuts that she
promoted benefited large corporate property owners way more than they
benefited residents.

The huge increases in tax revenues during her mayoral administration
weren’t enough to fund everything on her wish list though, borrowed
money was needed, too. She inherited a city with zero debt, but left it
with indebtedness of over $22 million. What did Mayor Palin encourage
the voters to borrow money for? Was it the infrastructure that she said
she supported? The sewage treatment plant that the city lacked? or a
new library? No. $1m for a park. $15m-plus for construction of a
multi-use sports complex which she rushed through to build on a piece
of property that the City didn’t even have clear title to, that was
still in litigation 7 yrs later--to the delight of the lawyers
involved! The sports complex itself is a nice addition to the
community but a huge money pit, not the profit-generator she claimed it
would be. She also supported bonds for $5.5m for road projects that
could have been done in 5-7 yrs without any borrowing.

While Mayor, City Hall was extensively remodeled and her office
redecorated more than once.

These are small numbers, but Wasilla is a very small city.

As an oil producer, the high price of oil has created a budget surplus
in Alaska. Rather than invest this surplus in technology that will
make us energy independent and increase efficiency, as Governor she
proposed distribution of this surplus to every individual in the state.

In this time of record state revenues and budget surpluses, she
recommended that the state borrow/bond for road projects, even while
she proposed distribution of surplus state revenues: spend today's
surplus, borrow for needs.

She’s not very tolerant of divergent opinions or open to outside ideas
or compromise. As Mayor, she fought ideas that weren’t generated by
her or her staff. Ideas weren’t evaluated on their merits, but on the
basis of who proposed them.

While Sarah was Mayor of Wasilla she tried to fire our highly respected
City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from
the library some books that Sarah wanted removed. City residents
rallied to the defense of the City Librarian and against Palin's
attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew
her termination letter. People who fought her attempt to oust the
Librarian are on her enemies list to this day.

Sarah complained about the “old boy’s club” when she first ran for
Mayor, so what did she bring Wasilla? A new set of "old boys". Palin
fired most of the experienced staff she inherited. At the City and as
Governor she hired or elevated new, inexperienced, obscure people,
creating a staff totally dependent on her for their jobs and eternally
grateful and fiercely loyal--loyal to the point of abusing their power
to further her personal agenda, as she has acknowledged happened in the
case of pressuring the State’s top cop (see below).

As Mayor, Sarah fired Wasilla’s Police Chief because he “intimidated”
her, she told the press. As Governor, her recent firing of Alaska's top
cop has the ring of familiarity about it. He served at her pleasure
and she had every legal right to fire him, but it's pretty clear that
an important factor in her decision to fire him was because he wouldn't
fire her sister's ex-husband, a State Trooper. Under investigation
for abuse of power, she has had to admit that more than 2 dozen
contacts were made between her staff and family to the person that she
later fired, pressuring him to fire her ex-brother-in-law. She tried to
replace the man she fired with a man who she knew had been reprimanded
for sexual harassment; when this caused a public furor, she withdrew
her support.

She has bitten the hand of every person who extended theirs to her in
help. The City Council person who personally escorted her around town
introducing her to voters when she first ran for Wasilla City Council
became one of her first targets when she was later elected Mayor. She
abruptly fired her loyal City Administrator; even people who didn’t
like the guy were stunned by this ruthlessness.

Fear of retribution has kept all of these people from saying anything
publicly about her.

When then-Governor Murkowski was handing out political plums, Sarah got
the best, Chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission: one
of the few jobs not in Juneau and one of the best paid. She had no
background in oil & gas issues. Within months of scoring this great
job which paid $122,400/yr, she was complaining in the press about the
high salary. I was told that she hated that job: the commute, the
structured hours, the work. Sarah became aware that a member of this
Commission (who was also the State Chair of the Republican Party)
engaged in unethical behavior on the job. In a gutsy move which some
undoubtedly cautioned her could be political suicide, Sarah solved all
her problems in one fell swoop: got out of the job she hated and
garnered gobs of media attention as the patron saint of ethics and as a
gutsy fighter against the “old boys’ club” when she dramatically quit,
exposing this man’s ethics violations (for which he was fined).

As Mayor, she had her hand stuck out as far as anyone for pork from
Senator Ted Stevens. Lately, she has castigated his pork-barrel
politics and publicly humiliated him. She only opposed the “bridge to
nowhere” after it became clear that it would be unwise not to.

As Governor, she gave the Legislature no direction and budget
guidelines, then made a big grandstand display of line-item vetoing
projects, calling them pork. Public outcry and further legislative
action restored most of these projects--which had been vetoed simply
because she was not aware of their importance--but with the unobservant
she had gained a reputation as “anti-pork”.

She is solidly Republican: no political maverick. The State party
leaders hate her because she has bit them in the back and humiliated
them. Other members of the party object to her self-description as a
fiscal conservative.

Around Wasilla there are people who went to high school with Sarah.
They call her “Sarah Barracuda” because of her unbridled ambition and
predatory ruthlessness. Before she became so powerful, very ugly
stories circulated around town about shenanigans she pulled to be made
point guard on the high school basketball team. When Sarah's
mother-in-law, a highly respected member of the community and
experienced manager, ran for Mayor, Sarah refused to endorse her.

As Governor, she stepped outside of the box and put together of package
of legislation known as “AGIA” that forced the oil companies to march
to the beat of her drum.

Like most Alaskans, she favors drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge. She has questioned if the loss of sea ice is linked to
global warming. She campaigned “as a private citizen” against a state
initiaitive that would have either a) protected salmon streams from
pollution from mines, or b) tied up in the courts all mining in the
state (depending on who you listen to). She has pushed the State’s
lawsuit against the Dept. of the Interior’s decision to list polar
bears as threatened species.

McCain is the oldest person to ever run for President; Sarah will be a
heartbeat away from being President.

There has to be literally millions of Americans who are more
knowledgeable and experienced than she.

However, there’s a lot of people who have underestimated her and are
regretting it.

•“Hockey mom”: true for a few years
•“PTA mom”: true years ago when her first-born was in elementary
school, not since
•“NRA supporter”: absolutely true
•social conservative: mixed. Opposes gay marriage, BUT vetoed a bill
that would have denied benefits to employees in same-sex relationships
(said she did this because it was unconsitutional).
•pro-creationism: mixed. Supports it, BUT did nothing as Governor to
promote it.
•“Pro-life”: mixed. Knowingly gave birth to a Down’s syndrome baby
BUT declined to call a special legislative session on some pro-life
•“Experienced”: Some high schools have more students than Wasilla has
residents. Many cities have more residents than the state of Alaska.
No legislative experience other than City Council. Little hands-on
supervisory or managerial experience; needed help of a city
administrator to run town of about 5,000.
•political maverick: not at all
•gutsy: absolutely!
•open & transparent: ??? Good at keeping secrets. Not good at
explaining actions.
•has a developed philosophy of public policy: no
•”a Greenie”: no. Turned Wasilla into a wasteland of big box stores
and disconnected parking lots. Is pro-drilling off-shore and in ANWR.
•fiscal conservative: not by my definition!
•pro-infrastructure: No. Promoted a sports complex and park in a city
without a sewage treatment plant or storm drainage system. Built
streets to early 20th century standards.
•pro-tax relief: Lowered taxes for businesses, increased tax burden on
•pro-small government: No. Oversaw greatest expansion of city
government in Wasilla’s history.
•pro-labor/pro-union. No. Just because her husband works union
doesn’t make her pro-labor. I have seen nothing to support any claim
that she is pro-labor/pro-union.


First, I have long believed in the importance of being an informed
voter. I am a voter registrar. For 10 years I put on student voting
programs in the schools. If you google my name (Anne Kilkenny +
Alaska), you will find references to my participation in local
government, education, and PTA/parent organizations.

Secondly, I've always operated in the belief that "Bad things happen
when good people stay silent". Few people know as much as I do because
few have gone to as many City Council meetings.

Third, I am just a housewife. I don't have a job she can bump me out
of. I don't belong to any organization that she can hurt. But, I am no
fool; she is immensely popular here, and it is likely that this will
cost me somehow in the future: that’s life.

Fourth, she has hated me since back in 1996, when I was one of the 100
or so people who rallied to support the City Librarian against Sarah's
attempt at censorship.

Fifth, I looked around and realized that everybody else was afraid to
say anything because they were somehow vulnerable.

I am not a statistician. I developed the numbers for the increase in
spending & taxation 2 years ago (when Palin was running for Governor)
from information supplied to me by the Finance Director of the City of
Wasilla, and I can't recall exactly what I adjusted for: did I adjust
for inflation? for population increases? Right now, it is impossible
for a private person to get any info out of City Hall--they are
swamped. So I can't verify my numbers.

You may have noticed that there are various numbers circulating for the
population of Wasilla, ranging from my "about 5,000", up to 9,000. The
day Palin’s selection was announced a city official told me that the
current population is about 7,000. The official 2000 census count was
5,460. I have used about 5,000 because Palin was Mayor from 1996 to
2002, and the city was growing rapidly in the mid-90’s.

Anne Kilkenny
August 31, 2008

Sarah Palin's To-Do List

From Slate. Very funny.

Sarah Palin's To-Do List

1. Learn about Al Qaeda.
2. Learn about Washington D.C.
3. Order Bristol's dress (Elastic waist!!! Is white inappropriate after 6 mos?)
4. Fire brother-in-law.
5. Learn about Russia/Georgia/S.Ossetia (Locate Abkhazia???)
6. Nurse Baby Trig.
7. Order flowers for wedding.
8. Fire people who haven't fired brother-in-law
9. Learn about ethics rules.
10. Fire at brother-in-law? (option: aerial shooting?)
11. Nurse Baby Trig.
12. Learn about Iran.
13. Learn about U.S. Senate.
14. Learn about contraception. (Too late???)
15. Investigate homes for foundlings?
16. Govern Alaska.
17. Life insurance on J.M.?

Monday, September 01, 2008

How Long Will She Last?

Abstinence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

So is it big news that Gov. Sarah Palin's 17-year old daughter is officially five months pregnant out of wedlock? You bet your ass it is, especially since Palin is a) anti-sex ed, b) pro-abstinence and c) absolutely so extremely anti-abortion that she thinks it should be illegal even in the case of rape or incest. The last fact is its own offensive thing. The first two underscore the hypocrisy of these so-called family values candidates.

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Any Way the Wind Blows Doesn't Really Matter

Underestimate Katrina, you come off callous and clueless. Overestimate Gustav, you come off a nervous nelly. So they scale back the Republican Nation Convention and conveniently cancel several lame (duck) speakers, and what kind of advantage bump does McCain get out of it? Nothing, other than a reminder of how poorly his party failed the country three years ago. He's like one of those pitiful weathermen in rain gear bracing against the wind, hypong exploiting the conditions for the sake of a one minute nightly news feature.

Back to you, John McCain. Back to your horrible campaign, your terrible choice of running mate, your obscene lack of ethics, your blatant pandering to the most base base of your party, your many mansions and the backdated wife that bought them for you.


McCain is reportedly headed down south, exploiting the latest threat of natural disaster to advance his cause of national disaster. So where was McCain when Katrina touched down? Right here, celebrating his birthday in Arizona with his buddy.